Study examines communication style of DVMs

Study examines communication style of DVMs

Dialogue, open-ended questions help engage clients in care, treatment
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Jul 01, 2009

FORT COLLINS, COLO. — During problem appointments, veterinarians tend to hide behind their stethoscopes, which may lead to inferior patient care, according to a recent study.

A randomly selected group of 50 companion-animal practitioners in southern Ontario were videotaped during six appointments, interacting with clients and their pets. Half of the six appointments were wellness visits and the others were problem appointments.

Upon review, the videotapes revealed that, during problem appointments, 90 percent of the data gathering and client education focused on biomedical topics. During those problem appointments, 20 percent of veterinarians seemed hurried, while 26 percent of clients seemed anxious and 14 percent seemed emotionally distressed, the study showed.

During wellness appointments, the emotional atmosphere was considered "generally relaxed."

"Veterinarians use very different styles in problem visits and wellness visits," says Dr. Jane Shaw, director of the Argus Institute at Colorado State University, who conducted the study while at the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College. While not surprised by the overall results, she was taken aback by the drastic differences in overall tone during the two types of appointments, she says.

"In wellness visits, there is an actual dialogue and exchange. The conversation is more shared and the client takes a more active roll."

That's largely due to the "partnership approach" veterinarians take in these appointments, she notes.

"They empower clients to take a more active role, therefore clients are more likely satisfied with the visit and are more likely to comply with recommendations."

With more social conversations, veterinarians also are more likely to learn about other factors affecting a pet's overall health.

Fifty percent of data-gathering statements and 27 percent of client-education statements during wellness appointments related to the pet's lifestyle activities and social interactions. And there was twice as much interaction with the pet compared to problem appointments, the study reveals.

"It's very common for veterinarians to have a predominant style of communication," Shaw says. "Some are more naturally paternalistic, which is traditionally what is trained in medical and veterinary doctors. But clients are diverse, and they may want different approaches."

Therefore, Shaw urges veterinarians to have a "flexible tool box" and to ask open-ended questions during all appointments that encourages clients to open up.

"Animal health occurs within a family unit, which impacts the way people care for animals," she says. "The concern is when veterinarians don't take the time to understand the broader picture. They may miss some key details that ensure the animal gets the proper care."

A single, working mother ordered to put eye drops in her dogs eyes every two hours likely would not be able to comply, but by talking to her, an alternative solution may be reached, such as giving the drops in the morning, at lunch and after work, Shaw offers.

"At the heart of it, it's really an issue of compliance and knowing the barriers and constraints clients are facing," she says.